COIN – Now we see that it failed. But that was obvious before we started (when will we learn?)

COIN – Now we see that it failed. But that was obvious before we started (when will we learn?)

by Fabius Maximus

Summary:  Now that the enthusiasm has passed for COIN as the tool by which foreign armies can defeat local insurgencies, we can look back for lessons.  They key insight is not that COIN failed to live up to the claims of its advocates.  It’s that the claims were obviously false when made, disproved by both history and logic.

Contents

  1. Introduction:  the rise of COIN
  2. The Fall of COIN
  3. Reason #1:  COIN seldom works when used by foreign armies against local insurgents
  4. Reason #2:  the intellectual foundation of COIN is largely bogus
  5. Other posts about COIN
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Comments

To me a single point made in this article is central to the problem with COIN; "It will not work, as the social sciences are as yet immature. Its practitioners cannot wield their theories as can chemists and physicists. Twentieth century history is largely a series of failed attempts at social engineering."

Whether it is possible for a foreign nation to effectively implement COIN is questionable but until the social theory is straight it is too early to say that is not possible, particularly with the number of times a successful insurgency has relied on outside interests.

TheCurmudgeon,

I couldn't agree with you more that much of the problem lies in the fact that the social sciences are not yet fully developed. If one accepts the study of human behavior as a science, then one must equally accept that it falls within one of the widely accepted hierarchies of science. In his writings, Auguste Comte presents the Hierarchy of Science that is in general use today. Mathematics is at the top of Comte‟s hierarchy of sciences, followed by physics, chemistry, biology, and finally, the social sciences. Here's where I believe resides your point... In Comte's hierarchy, the complete understanding of a given science depends on advances in its predecessors. Thus, a gap in the hierarchy results in an incomplete understanding of the latter sciences. In what can be seen as a significant oversight in the historical development of theories of war, scholars lacked the scientific insight to fully integrate biological advances (natural selection, genetics) into current theories of war. Doing so resulted in a gap of knowledge that failed to explain the behavioral reasons why we go to war.

You assume a viable social theory is necessary to counter an insurgency. There is a difference between countering an insurgency and transforming a society. It really is possible to defeat an insurgency using good military tactics that don't alienate the population, but at the same time don't focus on winning them over. More COIN interventions have been won than lost, so I think we all need to take a step back and forget we read FM 3-24 and look at the armed insurgent problem as a military problem, and review our tactics for "fighting" the insurgency.

For the most part I agree we have little reason to intervene in a nation's internal problems, but if the military is called in to do more than provide equipment and training, then it is apparent our leadership is looking for a military solution, and that can be provided if we focused on the enemy instead of the population. We have others who can and do focus on the population, if the U.S. military does that, then it undermines the government it is trying to help, and it loses it focus on conducting aggressive (yet surgical, not patrolling until you draw fire and then call for air support) military operations focused on destroying the insurgents, not building wells and schools. You're right that theory has failed, but that doesn't mean the military can't conduct effective counter-guerrilla operations.

Two points in reply:

(1) "You assume a viable social theory is necessary to counter an insurgency"

The article discussed the use of COIN by the US military, based on FM 3-24. FM 3-24 was explicitly based on modern social science theoory.

The high success rate of counter-insurgency by locals against locals shows that, as you point out, no such theory is necessary for success.

(2) "More COIN interventions have been won than lost"

Section 3 links to articles which show that since WWII foreign armies seldom defeat local insurgencies, citing (with links) the major studies of this history.
* “Lies, damned lies and counterinsurgency“, Robert W. Chamberlain (Captain, US Army), Armed Forces Journal, May 2008
* “War by Other Means – Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency“, David Gompert and John Gordon et al, RAND (2008).
* The Perils of Third-Party Counterinsurgency Campaigns”, Doctoral dissertation by Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard, 17 June 2010 -- Simpson was a co-author with Andrew Exum on the Abu Muqawama wwebsite.

I did not make myself clear. As an outsider, to be able to read the situation, you need a viable social theory. As an insider understanding a viable social theory can provide an advantage but it may not be necessary. The question is whether you are dealing with a revolution or a revolt. A revolt is simply an attempt by a segment of society to illegally change the regime. No complex understanding of why the segment of the society is revolting is required. A revolution involves an attempt to change the political structure as in the case of Libya or Syria. To effectively counter it you need to be able to understand what is happening and why to be able to pacify the population and stabilize the situation.

I'll throw out an idea without using the word COIN so it won't be contentious. FID is a tactic. Plan Colombia, while employing FID, was a strategy to help stabilize a government facing an insurgency. FID in and of itself would not have been a strategy. Plan Colombia addressed ends, ways, and means. Is this helpful? On a more serious, contentious note,

GO ARMY, BEAT NAVY!!!

Mike,

I disagree with you on FID. It provides a foundation for a strategy for helping to deal with the problem in a specific country. We should not confuse FID with Security Force Assistance. FID looks at the whole problem and it is not merely focused on training military forces.

From the Joint Pub:

"Foreign Internal Defense (FID) is participation by civilian and military agencies of a government or in any of the action programs taken by another government or other designated organization, to free and protect is society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to their security. The focus of US FID efforts is to support the host nation’s (HN’s) internal defense and development (IDAD), which can be described as the full range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and protect itself from the security threats described above."

Department of Defense, Joint Publication 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense (US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 12 July 2010), p, ix.

Dave,

Was Plan Colombia FID?

I believe it is. There is the civilian and military aspects of it with the US supporting the Colombian government's efforts to implement programs (defense and development) to defend itself against lawless, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism. Colombia is conducting its own IDAD with US support.

But the bigger issue is that we really should not be worrying about what something is called. It doesn't matter if it is FID or anything else. FID doctrine helps us get at a strategy.

But when look at mission statements we need to chose between:

XXX organization conducts FID to do XXX

XXX organization assists the Government of Colombia's internal defense and development programs to defeat the drug cartels and the FARC.

I say the former is not something we should be writing because among us we cannot even agree on what FID (or COIN or CT or IW) means, so using those terms would seem to be unhelpful when talking with the host nation and Congress and the general public - all of whom really need to understand the balanced and coherent strategy we are trying to execute. Let's use use our doctrine for training, education, and understanding within the professional military and civilian organization that have to conduct operations to support strategies but when it comes to discussing the strategies let's forgo the jargon and describe in plain language what we are trying to accomplish.

Dave:

Your point about not using jargon and acronyms is extremely important. Abusing the English language like that is not just unhelpful, it confuses the hell out of people. Congress, the Americans and the host nation should have a clear idea of what is going on without having to refer to a glossary or a specialized dictionary. Blizzards of acronyms obscured by prevailing clouds of jargon turn people off. If people are turned off they won't care and pretty soon, effects based operations is resurrected.

I ask that the point be taken one step further and the military itself minimize use of those insults to English. As you say, even you guys can't agree on what it all means, something I've seen on this site. I don't think anybody will be penalized for writing a clear sentence in place of a 4 letter acronym. Slim didn't use them much in his writing and he did pretty good.

Concur

Dave is bringing a fair point (as usual), but as my honey-to-do list is growing long and Army Navy road trip is growing short, this will be brief. We got to get on the same page with strategy- ends, ways, and means. I went to the State Department and Congressional Records Service this morning. I could find no mention of Plan Colombia referenced as FID. As long as we can't talk to each other, talk past each other, or confuse a Long War as a strategy of disjointed tactics with no cumulative effect, we will fail. We must do better.

Mike,
Why does Plan Colombia have to be called FID by State or the CRS? No one has to call it FID to make it FID. The mission fits in the doctrinal construct of FID. If not, then what do you think it might be otherwise?

But you make my point. We do not need to worry about what the mission is called. A large majority of the military planners on Plan Colombia were SOF. They were informed by doctrine in their planning effort, but there is no need to have State call the mission FID. Plan Colombia is just fine (and one of the most important things about the Plan as noted in the title of the plan that it is about Colombia and not about the US as the main effort - a tenet of FID).

But to reiterate let's worry less about naming something by doctrine and instead allow the doctrine to inform operations, planning, and training and the develop strategy and supporting campaign plans using plain language that is commonly understood.

Dave,

As a non-SOF guy, I'm trying to figure out how to describe "other" ideas like FID to non-SOF guys, civilians, State Department folks, etc. I understand your point, but if I'm talking to other tankers or scouts about Plan Colombia, they understand if I say Plan Colombia was a strategy and FID is a tactic. They do not understand if I say that FID is a foundation for strategy. I get confused on that too.

My point is that terms like FID are new for a lot of people just like they were for me back in 2005 when an old grumply SF SGM took six months to really sit down and teach them to me.

For example, recently, I was helping one author who is very excited about his ideas on how to build schools in foreign conflict zones in a "through, by, and with" model; however, he referred to what he was doing as population-centric counterinsurgency as described in FM 3-24. I explained that he may want to really look into FID as it is the more bottom-up, decentralized model that correlates with his project. He, like many others, had just started throwing out COIN everywhere and did not understand that the current PC-COIN model is much more top-down, bureaucratic centralized driven.

So, the point of my original post, as we strayed a bit but that is a good thing, was to talk about other ways of helping governments counter insurgencies without using COIN. For me, there are many takeaways from Plan Colombia, and we need to start really looking at this case study and others like the Philippines.

Mike,

For decades FID has not been a SOF exclusive mission but the myth continues to perpetuate that not only is FID a SOF exclusive mission but all that FID entails is training host nation forces. I would recommend to anyone to just read the executive summary of Joint Publication 3-22, Foreign Internal Defense 12 July 2010 and then ask them explain how it does not provide the foundation for development of a holistic whole of government strategy for helping a friend, partner or ally by assisting in its internal defense and development programs to defend itself against lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism.

As the Russians and Germans have long said the problem with the US is that we have doctrine that we do not read or follow. And as we have always said before you can deviate from doctrine you have to know it. We do not pay attention to our own doctrine.

Instead of looking at our doctrine and applying and adapting it to each unique situation we spend more time trying to come up with new names and terminology. Sound doctrine exists if only people would look at it rather than go for the ARCOM for investing a fancy new buzzword.

Dave,

As an aside, I have started using John Gillette's Confusing Deference with Agreement as a great primer to start the discussion on should the proper mindset be when you deploy to another country on an advisory mission.

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/confusing-deference-with-agreement

MikeF,

How do you justify categorizing FID as bottom up and COIN as top down? Every mission related to FID is very top down driven (as it should be). We are given very specific left and right limits, objectives, etc. Like any operation, the how to execute the what they were told to do is largely determined by those doing it (or should be).

It is way past time we move past the discussion of population centric COIN. Focusing on the population does not counter an insurgency (an active violent one), and it never has. A government to be effective needs to focus on its population whether at peace, conflict or war to remain legitimate, but again we confuse good governance as a "way" to "counter" insurgency. Too late, the insurgents are not going to lay down their arms because the government is changing its behavior. There is a completely different behavior dynamic driving the insurgency, than the condition that may have led to it starting.

We have a lot of do gooders in our society, and while I applaud their humanitarian efforts to build schools, help them with agricultural methods, etc. lets not confuse this as COIN.

As for defining FID to a conventional force, I had GPF personnel augment us in our efforts in W. Africa and they had no problem understanding we were conducting FID (for those missions it was largely train and equip). They knew we had no authorities, nor did the U.S. have any desire to get involved in "their" fight. The concept is actually quite simple. The hard part is developing a workable strategy.

BillM,

In any operation, I would count the number of general officers in country at a time. This number (given the staff and resources entailed)would give me a measure of how top-down, centralized and bureaucratic an operation has become.

For operations general categorized as FID, the general officer levels are very low (less than 10).

For recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan categorized as COIN, general officer levels have reached almost 100 at times.

Mike

We need to ignore recent bastardizations of the definition of FID intended to help make it better fit within equally bastardized definitions of COIN, or newly born (continuing this line) bastard operations such as SFA.

COIN only applies to insurgency. I take a unique position on COIN, in that I recognize that our current definitions and doctrine are heavily based in the extremely biased strategies of Colonialism and Containment. Both of those strategies are largely obsolete today, equally so are those definitions of COIN. Time for a major refresh there. Personally, I recommend that that refresh should consider COIN as a purely domestic operation, and that foreign assistance to COIN is best fitted under the umbrella of FID.

FID, however, is much broader than assistance to COIN. FID is a great, and much maligned, construct. Much of what the conventional force today sells as COIN and SFA are actually subsets of FID. This is much more than SOF vs. Conventional; or a matter of geeky doctrinal semantics. This goes to the very essence of establishing proper strategic frameworks from the very start of an operation, and thereby creating the opportunity for success. We owe our soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors and allies that opportunity. Current constructs of COIN and SFA deny the opportunity for success. This is no small thing. Heads should roll, and contracts should end. We owe our operators and our taxpayers better.

Mike,

That is certainly an interesting method of analysis though not one I would have considered for describing top down versus bottom up. I do not think there has ever been a general officer in country in command of the military forces in Plan Colombia and there was a 1 star for the first 6 months of OEF-P in the Philippines but other than that those two missions have not had in country general officer leadership.

But the FID doctrine is instructive. Here is an excerpt from JP 3-22:

"The National Security Council (NSC) will generally provide the initial guidance and translation of national- level decisions pertaining to FID. The Department of State (DOS) is generally the lead government agency and assists the NSC in building and carrying out national FID policies and priorities. The United States Agency for International Development carries out nonmilitary assistance programs designed to assist certain less developed nations to increase their productive capacities and improve their quality of life. The Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency support the FID mission in both a national-level advisory capacity and at the regional and country levels through direct support of FID activities.

The Department of Defense national-level organizations involved in FID management include the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Joint Staff. OSD acts as a policy-making organization in most FID matters. The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy exercises overall direction, authority, and control concerning SA for OSD through the various assistant secretaries of defense. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) is the principal DOD organization through which SecDef carries out responsibilities for SA, conducting international logistics and sales negotiations and serving as the DOD focal point for liaison with US industry regarding SA. Finally, DSCA develops and promulgates SA procedures, maintains the database for the programs, and makes determinations with respect to the allocation of foreign military sales administrative funds.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) plays an important role in providing strategic guidance to the combatant commanders for the conduct of military operations to support FID. This guidance is provided primarily through the National Military Strategy (NMS) and the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP), the key components of the Joint Strategic Planning System (JSPS).

United States Coast Guard, within the Department of Homeland Security is specifically authorized to assist other federal agencies in the performance of any activity for which especially qualified, including SA activities for DOS and DOD.

Geographic combatant commanders (GCCs) are responsible for planning and executing military operations in support of FID within their area of responsibility (AOR). Other combatant commanders play a supporting role by providing resources to conduct operations as directed by the President or SecDef. All staff elements contribute to the overall support of the FID operation. For example, the plans directorate incorporates military support to FID into theater strategy and plans; the operations directorate monitors the execution of military operations in support of FID; and the intelligence directorate produces intelligence that often supplements estimates produced by the national intelligence agencies. Other staff functions may be given primary responsibilityfor specific military technical support missions and will usually focus on the direct support (not involving combat operations) category of military support to FID.

When authorized by SecDef through the CJCS, commanders of unified commands may establish subordinate unified commands (also called subunified commands), either geographic or functional, to conduct operations on a continuing basis in accordance with the criteria set forth for unified commands. Theater special operations commands are of particular importance because of the significant role of special operations forces (SOF) in FID operations. Coordination between the joint force special operations component commander and the other component commanders within the combatant command is essential for effective management of military operations in support of FID, including joint and multinational exercises, mobile training teams, integration of SOF with conventional forces, and other operations.

The President gives the chief of the diplomatic mission, normally an ambassador, full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all USG executive branch employees in-country. Close coordination with each chief of mission (COM) and country team is essential in order to conduct effective, country-specific FID operations that support the HN’s IDAD program and US regional goals and objectives. The principal military member of the country team is the senior defense official/defense attaché (SDO/DATT), who functions as the COM’s principal military advisor on defense and national security issues, the senior diplomatically accredited DOD military officer assigned to a US diplomatic mission, and the single point of contact for all DOD matters involving the embassy or DOD elements assigned to or working from the embassy. Additionally, in the majority of countries, the functions of a security cooperation organization (SCO) are carried out under the direction of the SDO/DATT. The SCO is the most important FID-related military activity under the supervision of the ambassador. The specific title of the SCO may vary; however, these differences reflect nothing more than the political climate within the HN. As examples, an SCO may be referred to as a military assistance advisory group, military advisory group, office of military cooperation, or office of defense cooperation."

Lastly I would like to point out what it says in the doctrine because despite me writing it here so often most do not take my word for it:

e. Although FID is a core task of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and special operations forces (SOF) maintain the capability to conduct such operations, conventional forces (CF) also possess capabilities to conduct FID. FID is not a military- only operation; rather, it includes an interagency approach to assisting an HN. The joint force commander (JFC) supporting a FID effort may employ capabilities provided by both CF and SOF. A robust FID operation may be conducted through the command and control (C2) structure of a joint task force (JTF) or a joint special operations task force (JSOTF). When CF and SOF are integrated, appropriate C2 or liaison elements should be exchanged or provided to the appropriate components of a joint force."

Dave,

Top-down versus Bottom-up is generally another set of terms that gets contentiousness so I am trying to show another way to visualize it. If we look at the structure and make up of our higher level staff, that gets us into the means that we are using. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we used a lot of troops and a money. In both places, we took a lot of overhead into that country. Look at the city that was LSAA Anaconda. If we look at these two problems in terms of structure, then it is easy to see those operations were top-down, centralized, bureaucracies. It is not like this is a big secret. Most of the time, this comes out as jokes about reflective belts and FOBBITs.

And, I'm not putting a judgement on top down versus bottom up. I'm just trying to highlight that we literally have employed more general officers to command and control in one country than we sent military advisors to another. That's a big one for me.

In the end, look at the cost difference between the different approaches.

MikeF,

There is a big difference between being micro-managed and bottom up FID. Policy, strategy, and objectives come from the top. It doesn't matter if an E7 is running it, or three general officers are tripping over one another to run operations at the ground level. FID must be line with our diplomatic policy for that country, so to think anyone in uniform at the execution level will just do what they want with no left and right limits from higher is misguided. The part of the mission that the tactical unit/individual executes seems to be what you're referring to. If you're given a mission to train a particular unit in Country X on skill sets 1 & 2 you are generally given considerable lattitude on working out "how" that training that will be executed with your HN counterparts. You also (depending on your chain of command and Country Team receptiveness to input) can inform higher and make recommended changes to the guidance given.

All too often bottom up is less desirable, and is usually the default when there is no strategy. What was Sun Tzu saying? Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. I don't hear too many SF Soldiers asking how to do something, but they usually want clarification on what is to be done and why. At this level is it is simple MDMP.

A couple of rare disagreements with you, Bill...

"It doesn't matter if an E7 is running it, or three general officers are tripping over one another..."

I think it does matter; the one SFC will probably get it about right. The three more senior types will get into ego and DOR conflicts which will likely be decided by the loudest squeaking wheel -- not necessarily the correct solution may appear in that case...

Not to mention the waste in terms of costs -- or, perhaps and in rare cases, of talent or capability.

That factor can also impact this:

"...so to think anyone in uniform at the execution level will just do what they want with no left and right limits from higher is misguided."

That's correct in principle but in actuality, selective compliance and / or selective neglect usually raise hob with left and right limits...

Egos are dangerous things.

BillM,

I understand the difference; I'm asking if it is irrelevant if the higher headquarters in country is too large.

To that point I agree, see comments on your other blog post. Looks like we're posting past one another. I agree that there is too much C2, and incompetent C2 on top of that. I just don't qualify that as top down compared to bottom up. There is a role for top down strategy and bottom up execution, I don't think we have top down strategy, and in lieu of strategy there is too much time to focus on B.S. instead. Thus the sad state of our FOBs.

In other words, if your means are top-down, centralized, and bureaucratic, then the ways will follow.

A minor comment on the top down and competence issues, an anecdote:

Then BG Hank Schweiter, serving as Director of Special Operations at DA, gave a briefing to COMUSMACV about one of the projects in 1966. He started his briefing by noting that the MACV Staff was then larger than the combined Staffs of Eisenhower and MacArthur at the end of World War II. General Westmoreland and the Staff Generals and Colonels were not amused but General Schweiter had a serious and telling point. Bigger is not only not better, it can be an impediment -- as events proved.

As we see routinely today..

Believe it is critical to continue moving forward rather than observing backwards. Simply being proficient at historical infantry blocking and tackling is no guarantee of future relevance. Kursk and Desert Storm armor battles are not less relevant today because of any assumption that we could not perform them capably tomorrow. Rather, it is because enemy's realize that attempting that with their current armor quantity/quality on a modern open battlefield would be suicidal due to our air power and long range fires. Plus, our tanks no longer are limited to 1500 meter shots.

It is only when you get into complex and urban terrain that the enemy has a shot in large wars and small. Even there, heavy and medium armor can prevail as illustrated by the battle of Sadr City in 2008. Where it cannot prevail is on a battlefield where fuel costs $400 a gallon, has thousands of miles to travel, and is consumed in 500 gallon gulps every eight hours. Less heavy armor, task-organized with light infantry and Stryker elements, can still be highly effective while limiting fuel consumption and deployment challenges in an A2/AD environment.

Every war differs. But you don't get much more identical than the Soviets in Afghanistan vs our coalition in Afghanistan. The difference was they had more armor and shorter supply lines so you would expect them to fare better than they did. In contrast, with a less hostile attitude to the population, and a greater focus on protecting them rather than succumbing to pressure to seek out the enemy on complex/urban terrain they grew up on and can blend into...our heroes have suffered 1/10th the level of combat deaths. Vietnam would have been similarly less bloodly with a greater Vietnamization and COIN strategy from the get go, coupled with lighter modern body armor (many would have survived bouncing betties, indirect fire, and small arms) and more survivable helicopters. COIN is on the right tract if we start out with sufficient well-dispersed forces, and a division of failed states (when possible) along ethnic lines to preclude civil war.

I note that AOL Defense has published the new Joint Operational Access Concept that describes "Cross-Domain Synergy" on air, sea, land, space, and cyber domains. The Army can learn lesson from both Afghanistan and Iraq on use of HESCO and COPs to provide defensible areas for distributed operations on smaller land masses that require far fewer supplies than larger FOBs and AA, and less exposure than large ships.

The joint capability to move by multiple air and sea avenues of approach via smaller air/sea transport means...and to accept that there will be some casualties...assures us access to any shore (perhaps an adjacent ally in some cases) regardless of A2/AD attempts. That access alone precludes casualties and area denial attempts from being sunk en route over intertheater distances. US forward presence whether in small wars for stability operations and peacekeeping, or larger war deterrence, has a capability to move elsewhere intratheater distances. Couple that with rapid reinforcement by tailored heavy-light task forces over intertheater air distances will stand us in good stead in preventing or reducing the impact of future "politics by other means," attempts to thwart energy and commerce transport, and the spread of WMD.

Perhaps we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I do think we should consider adding a general principle that COIN is best fought by those threatened with the insurgency (and not pay lip service to service a principle). We need to know how to advise and assist friends, partners, and allies when they are threatened with lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism (when it is determined in our national interests and when we have a balanced and coherent strategy). If we think we have to intervene in an insurgency and think we should lead such a fight then we must understand that we risk being a de facto if not actual occupying power with all the baggage that comes with that action. We may believe we have to conduct stability operations to buy time for the legitimate government to develop the capability to defend itself against the above threats but for us to conduct COIN directly for that government may in fact be counterproductive in the long term.

The bottom line is that we need to have balance and coherency among ends, ways, and means in order to do what our country needs us to do from a national security perspective.

I very much enjoyed reading this piece. In a community where information is presented in either slides or essays, it is nice to read a hybrid that complements a structured writing style like that of Fabius Maximus in this piece. However, in recent months, our arguments advocating or attacking COIN have led with some hard-hitting and sweeping title choices (I too plead guilty: “COIN is Alive”). This piece is an example where the title endeavors to be inclusive, but is not inclusive of the audience.

My position remains that COIN is neither dead, nor ruled a failure merely because it hasn’t worked from a perspective of U.S. strategy. When seen from above the fray of recent U.S. contingency operations, I remain convinced there remains the requirement to develop strategy and doctrine for irregular warfare, and I believe COIN is the most successful, albeit incomplete, U.S. effort to date.

Rather than jettisoning COIN, I believe those who have mulled upon the phenomena of war should endeavor to understand how and when COIN, Insurgency, and Regular warfare is best applied.

In that light, perhaps COIN should be seen neither as a failure, nor as dead. Rather we could view it as the first or second most understudied quadrant of war (the other being insurgency) that will not dissolve away merely because we chose not to engage in these adventures. Rival groups know this, which should serve as a caution to not discard the developing doctrine. Let us adapt too! You can bet this body of knowledge will be needed again when traditional methods fall short. After all, you can’t tighten all screws with flat tip drivers, no matter how many you have in your box.

I think the question is less whether "Afghanistan and Iraq would have been better off without a prolonged allied presence" than whether we would have been better off without an extended presence.

To me the lesson to be taken away from these episodes is simply that anyone contemplating regime change must assume from the start that they will face an extended and intractable insurgency and that installing a functioning government that enjoys any perception of legitimacy among the governed is sure to be very difficult and time-consuming and may not be possible.

In Iraq in particular I think we suffered from massively distorted expectations about the post-regime change environment. That's not something we need to repeat.

The trend seems to be that if enough people say Afghanistan and Iraq would have been better off without a prolonged allied presence after major combat operations finished...it must be true. Yet it is completely unsubstantiated and historically unproveable.

Even Vietnam may have actually resulted in the Domino effect that was its reason in the first place. The Chinese and Russians found it was not so easy to spread communism with a pesky democracy standing in its way. We also learned a lot about helicopter warfare and special operations in Vietnam...and that search and destroy does little but destroy American lives.

An argument could be made that WWII accomplished what WWI failed to finish. OIF finished what Desert Storm left undone. Current occasional efforts in Somalia and to counter piracy are the legacy of our prior failure to stick it out. Israel is stuck with unfinished business because they left Lebanon thinking it would fix itself. Instead, Hezbollah has used many of the same COIN techniques claimed not to work to create a secure home adjacent to the Lebanese Army...just as the Pakistani Army turns a blind eye to the Haqqani network, Quetta Taliban, and Lashkar e Taiba.

Seems like the Chamberlains of today are quick to reject the wars of the future that actually will occur in hopes that the wars of yesteryear and the sea wars that have not occurred since WWII, will once again return to restore earlier warfare glory.

The lack of planning for stability operations following OIF was an obvious failure. Yet some would argue it wasn't a gross oversight because we simply should have walked away declaring victory as President Bush appeared to do until reality reared its ugly head. We left Desert Storm thinking the job was done and Hussein would fall. Future wars will similarly be incomplete should we choose to cut and run leaving chaos.

The lessons from both current wars are plentiful and enduring. They include coalition-building, host nation security force training, COPs/HESCO, armored trucks and Stryker, use of heavy armor in COIN urban operations, body armor, aerostats, sensor towers, UAS, sufficient ground force for wide area security, aerial resupply and airdrop, airlift of armor, attack helicopter and CAS primacy...and treating the conquered the same way we would want to be treated if we were the vanquished. We didn't beat up on Japan or Germany after the war. Nor did we hurry home to leave them floundering. It is astonishing to see so many claim that such a strategy would work in the future.

Move Forward:

"OIF finished what Desert Storm left undone. Current occasional efforts in Somalia and to counter piracy are the legacy of our prior failure to stick it out."

Desert Storm didn't leave anything undone. If you consider the removal of Saddam Hussein as a task that needed doing, you differ with the 1990-91 policy makers who simply did not want the mess that came with that task -- and which took us the better part of seven years to bring to a marginal close...

Similarly, Somalia was not a US issue, we left because we did not have the capability to change the culture. Nor did we in Viet Nam, Afghanistan or Iraq. 'Staying' is not the answer to all things -- but a far better question is not whether to stay but whether we should go in the first place and, if we do, what precisely do we propose to accomplish.

I'm curious -- what are your proposals for what we should accomplish / have accomplished in either Afghanistan or Iraq?

" Israel is stuck with unfinished business because they left Lebanon thinking it would fix itself. Instead, Hezbollah has used many of the same COIN techniques claimed not to work to create a secure home adjacent to the Lebanese Army...just as the Pakistani Army turns a blind eye to the Haqqani network, Quetta Taliban, and Lashkar e Taiba."

I'm not sure that Israel agrees with your statement the Lebanon would fix itself, however, with respect to all those nations and entities you cite, recall that they live in the neighborhpood. We do not...

"Seems like the Chamberlains of today are quick to reject the wars of the future that actually will occur..."

And you know this how? Even if they were to be the "wars of the future" who or what says we should get involved in them? Even if we get involved, who or what says we need to replicate the failed TTP of Viet Nam through Afghanistan?

"We left Desert Storm thinking the job was done and Hussein would fall..."

I was rather intimately involved with that one and that does not square with my recollection.

" Future wars will similarly be incomplete should we choose to cut and run leaving chaos."

What is the basis for that statement? In your opinion, does leaving chaos by design equate to 'cutting and running?'

Your list of lessons are IMO neither plentiful nor will they likely be enduring. Also note that these: "coalition-building, host nation security force training, ... armored trucks ..., use of heavy armor in COIN urban operations, body armor, ... ... UAS, sufficient ground force for wide area security, aerial resupply and airdrop, airlift of armor, attack helicopter and CAS primacy."

Were all learned in efforts long before we went to either Afghanistan or Iraq. Virtually all those I left were learned (or relearned) in Viet Nam or as a result of Korea.

"We didn't beat up on Japan or Germany after the war. Nor did we hurry home to leave them floundering."

Comparing our staying in those nations after their utter defeat with the ongoing combat efforts in other nations is not a good fit...

"It is astonishing to see so many claim that such a strategy would work in the future."

I think you may misunderstand what so many are claiming. The issue is not hurrying home to leave others floundering -- it is to not stay just so we can say we did; IOW, there should be a purpose and an achievable goal -- if there is not, then going makes no sense -- much less staying.

Ken asked: I'm curious -- what are your proposals for what we should accomplish / have accomplished in either Afghanistan or Iraq?

Fair request, and one I frequently ask those who say COIN is not working. For starters, the casualty level alone indicates that some aspect of COIN works. No 58,000 dead like Vietnam. No 14,000 dead like the Soviets in Afghanistan...both over decade time spans.

Second, contain costs because both wars have been too expensive. That is a function of isolated environments, and excessive funds spent trying to "build." We aren't good at that. We are good at wide area security using COPs. In many other world areas, costs for that security would be far less. The JLTV, Stryker, and M-ATV use far less fuel than larger MRAPSs and armor. Heavy armor is still essential, but just not in the same numbers (no more Kursks or Desert Storms are likely) and should be task-organized with the lighter units in small numbers.

Third, recognize ethnic diversity and don't try to keep untenable states intact. Balkanization has been more successful than Tajik troops in Pashtun areas. Iraq, done again, would be three states. Use the initial time frame for military occupation without elections. Divide the state along ethnic lines. Hold elections. Build host nation armies with common ethnicities and languages. If necessary pick friends and base there in greater numbers for security and logistics, and raid and use intratheater airpower into other areas if they prove unfriendly to us.

Fourth, the surges worked. They may not have done it all but they didn't hurt and facilitated homegrown solutions. Surge sooner. Plan for stability operations with multiple dispersed COPs.

Finally, recognize that personnel costs must be brought down. We need some form of national service at close to minimum wage levels for young servicemembers. We need fewer bases occupying expensive coastal real estate.

I also note an important articles in today's news that indicate small wars are the way ahead, and that you CAN predict likely areas where conflict will occur. Check out the Marine Corps Time article: "Hotspots: You might deploy here next." Arguing for the other side is the BBC article: "Hu Jinteo tell Chinese Navy: Prepare for Warfare." But is Taiwan or the South China Sea any more essential to our national survival than Afghanistan (adjacent to Pakistani nukes) and Iraq (with the world's second largest oil potential)?

The best thing about the article is the map that illustrates that we could place Army and Marine COPs on Spratly islands and readily resupply them given the sea access.

Move Forward:

The casualty count comparison between Viet Nam, Russia in Afghanistan and us today is not terribly germane. Three very different wars fought in very different ways at different times against different enemies do not lend themselves to the statement that "COIN works" -- paricularly as all three were variants of COIN-like effort.

Without getting into the minutia, the COP process is IMO terribly inefficient and was and is used only because our states of training -- we did that in Viet Nam also -- and risk averse culture leave few other options. Thus, I disagree that "we are good at wide area security." A recent returnee with four Afghan deployments contends that we still do not patrol adequately and patrols go until they make contact, then call for support after which they return to base. He also contends that minimal night patrols are run and that we, other than SOF, initiate few contacts (except by the Australians who seem to be doing it right...).

I can agree with your ideas on the other States, Unfortunately, in most cases our ideas will probably run into the reality that in other States, none those things will likely be our call...

Did the Surges work or did they temporarily alter the situation for little lasting impact on the overall campaign? Consider also that a surge is by definition an unusual exertion that generally cannot be sustained. 'Staying' involves consistency of effort -- we do not do that well...

As one who served in two wars with conscription in effect, allow me to disagree that some form of national service is viable, much less desirable. That's an atrociously bad idea. Our Army should be smaller and far better trained, not larger and even more poorly trained.

No, Taiwan and the South China Sea not essential to our national survival. Neither is Afghanistan or Iraq. Paksitani nukes are not a problem IMO (nor are those of anyone else a big deal...) and if the US is smart (always a questionable supposition), our oil production capacity will exceed that of the ME, not just Iraq in fairly short order.

If the Marine Corps Times author is better than most in his predictions of when and where war will come, he deserves an Attaboy. On the 24th of June 1950, like most Marines I barely knew where Korea was. Not true a day later. Ten years later, I knew where Viet Nam was -- we had people there for over five years and when the Kennedy Brothers got elected and decided a land war in Asia would be good for the US economy and the Democratic Party, I knew we were in trouble...

Re: the South China sea, Interior lines can be defeated, among others the US Civil war proved that. That war also proved that to do that, a truly major, no holds barred effort is required. I do not question the potential of the Armed Forces of the US, I do question their current capabilities. More importantly, you may believe US politicians will commit to and sustain a truly major effort. I do not and those planning adventures of a new and similar kind really ought to consider that aspect.

Ken:

Regarding this statement:

"A recent returnee with four Afghan deployments contends that we still do not patrol adequately and patrols go until they make contact, then call for support after which they return to base. He also contends that minimal night patrols are run and that we, other than SOF, initiate few contacts (except by the Australians who seem to be doing it right...)."

Could you provide more details especially about the Australians and what they are doing right that we aren't? Also, for example, should patrols keep going after a contact? Did we do that in wars past? I always thought night patrols were a fundamental. Is that true and why aren't we doing them?

carl:

The Strines are just doing basic soldiering. Right. We've (in too many units and cases) lost the ability to do that. There are some good reasons for that and there are some that are not so good...

The Australians keep a decent interval and do not bunch up, they take up sensible overwatch and firing positions, they know where rally points are and they know how to move differently, terrain and vegetation dependent. When they're fired upon, there is no panic or chaos, the Troops know what they're supposed to do and just do it. Every man has a map even though the leaders have one and also have GPS. Maps come in handy if the vagaries of combat cause on to get separated from.the rest of the unit. Quite simply, they're just doing the basics and doing them well. It is telling they do not like working with some US units due to either an excess of enthusiasm or a near total lack of it -- apparently in their Area of Operations at the time of which I wrote there were no US units who could hit a happy medium between those two poles. They also note the lack of co9mpetence on our part in the basics...

ADDED:In fairness, 3/RAR noted the same things in 1950 in Korea and 1/RAR noted them in Viet Nam in '65-66. The Australian Army is quite good at the basics, we are not -- we will not spend the time, effort and money to do it right; we're too impatient and have other priorities. That's been true for many years and will likely not change until we are forced by events to do so...

Reference patrols, one does not go on patrol just to make a contact and return. Patrols are dispatched for a reason. If in the course of the patrol, contact occurs, it is handled and the mission continues until completed. We probably rely excessively on supporting fires but there's a reason for that, the politically required armor and the batteries required to operate all the goodies provided by our munificent Congress weigh our troops down to such an extent that they are not able to chase the Gazelles and Ibex that are Afghan fighters. We are also under gunned, caliber-wise and weapon specific in most cases in the average Platoon.

I'm not aware of another conflict where a patrol has ceased and returned after a contact -- but that's just me. On night patrols, they are made, SOF elements do them by the score daily but GPF units just do not patrol aggressively for several reasons -- again, good and bad. Also be aware that units differ, some of ours are doing the same things as the Australians -- too many (one is too many IMO) are not. None of this is to say that we're doing poorly; we simply are not doing nearly as well as we could or should. The principal problems are risk aversion (and that has many Fathers including the entire excessively politically correct and nervous societal milieu that is the US...), excessive personnel turnover induced inexperience and inadequate training. All of those items are, incidentally, politically and not militarily fostered -- the Australians don't really know any more than we do -- they are simply for the most part allowed to do what is militarily correct while we are precluded or inhibited from doing that by a Congress that generally means well but has a different agenda and on whose list of priorities, military competence is way, way down toward the bottom..

I got to tell you that after four years of "active service" on SWJ, and even though he and I have often locked horns over issues, I find Sergeant Major (ret) Ken White's observations and analysis always worthwhile and thoughtful. We are lucky to have him in these discussions.

gian

Ken, I note Move Forward has a great imagination when it comes to re-creating history. This comment to me was completely illogical: Quote, "Seems like the Chamberlains of today are quick to reject the wars of the future that actually will occur"

If any particular group of people are in the Chamberlain category it is the COINdistas who simply wish away the real possibility of a future war, and instead prefer to commit our forces to mucking around in "other people's" internal conflicts. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. I can't think of one COIN fight we have been that was critical to our national security, they are wars of choice to pursue specific national policies, but they are not wars of necessity (at least none of them have been yet).

My thanks to the editors for posting this link, and for the comments by Carl and Colonel Gentile.

(1) As for its intent, Col Gentile's comment is a perfect summary (which has been added to the introduction). The questions discussed (of which this post is one chapter in a long series) are:
(a) When we should directly fight local insurgencies (strategy), and
(b) When we must, how should we do so (doctrine)?

Given the record, this series of posts suggest the answers are:
(a) Only when necessary (IMO neither Af or Iraq were necessary after their governments were overthrown).
(b) Unknown. The number of successes by foreign armies against local insurgencies is too few to draw firm conclusions.

(2) Carl raises the same vital point in a different way:

(a) "Unfortunately, the world will require us to fight small wars in the future ... It will be much harder to get small wars right if we stamp our feet and refuse to think about them anymore."

I agree. Which is the point of my posts about COIN.

(b) "The problem with articles like FM's is that they come across as advocating not thinking about small wars at all; and we shouldn't think about them because they can't be won."

IMO we refuse to look at the historical record and so repeat past mistakes. As the old Alcoholics Annonymous saying goes, insanity is repeating the same actions but expecting a different result.

I believe we have not yet found a useful doctrine for foreign armies to fight local insurgencies. That does not mean that it is impossible, but does suggest that repeating failed doctrines (Vietnam, Iraq, Af-Pak) will not work. I would like to see Colonel Gentile's view.

(3) About firepower: "small wars by definition are ones in which massive firepower can't be used."

What is massive firepower depends on the local situation. Massive firepower in Iraq or Afghanistan differs from that in 1944 Germany. For examples of massive firepower using artillery in Iraq, see these:

(a) “Bloggers’s Roundtable” with Colonel Jon Lehr, Commander of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, 23 May 2008
http://www.defense.gov/dodcmsshare/BloggerAssets/2008-05/052308135221200...

(b) “The Warrior King“, Abu Muqawama, 28 May 2008 -- which provides a book review by “tintin”, an Ivy League ROTC cadet.
http://www.cnas.org/blogs/abumuqawama/2008/05/warrior-king.html

Esp note Col Gentile's comment (on the original AM website; not carried over to the the CNAS website).

"Excellent review; lots to chew on especially in light of the AM thread last week on current use of arty and lots of us firepower in diyala. Is there any real difference from how Sassman used firepower in Diyala in 03/04 to how it is being used by the SBCT there today? Or is the real and only difference that one is part of the Surge and the other is not? Just some questions to provoke, more to follow later."

Please email me if you would like additional information on these things.

Carl:

I agree with you that it is important to think about small wars. What I have been saying in all of this is that when we are thinking about small wars in the present and the future we need to do it with the understanding that the way the US has fought these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, operationally, has failed. If we treat them as successes then we are learning the wrong things from them. It would be like the British after the disastorous and failed Galipoli campaign in 1915 afterward claiming that they were succussful and that there was a trove a strategic lessons to be gotten from it.

gian

Gian:

The problem with articles like FM's is that they come across as advocating not thinking about small wars at all; and we shouldn't think about them because they can't be won. When you look through the article you see a bunch of "yea, but(s)". Yea but the Philippines was an exception. Yea but Malaya was isolated etc.; always buttressing the point that it can't be done. To me this kind of article is just an apologia for American failure. America and the American military haven't handled these things well but that is not because we've erred, it is because can't be done. I don't buy that.

I don't like using words like operationally or strategically because I get confused about the professional meanings of the words. I would prefer to say some of the things we have done haven't worked. I will agree with you that saying those things did work is a terrible mistake. I would say too though that not to recognize that some of the things we did, did work, would be just as bad a mistake. Both things would be a mistake because both fail to appreciate the whole truth.

To expand upon your Gallipoli example: it would have been a mistake to say that the landings were successful. But it would have been as bad a mistake to say that amphibious landings can't ever be successful because they didn't work at Gallipoli. Both judgments would have been in error because they didn't recognize the whole complicated truth. (From what I've read an even more basic truth was that you should pay more attention to mine warfare and crew your minesweepers with naval crews.)

That is what I fear is happening now, we haven't been as successful at recent small wars as we would like, therefore people will draw the wrong conclusion that we can't ever be successful at small wars.

I would like your opinion on something. If this isn't the place let me know. It seems to me that the critical factor in winning small wars is isolating the insurgent from important external help by a relatively major power. That can be done two ways, politically or geographically (islands, really big mountains etc), but if it can be done, the insurgent has only a small chance. Looking at most of the small wars I can think of, that seems to be the biggest thing. What do you think?

This article contains the following sentence.

"As the US military retreats from COIN, returning to its traditional (since WWI) reliance on massive firepower, we can look back and learn from its second rise and fall (Vietnam was their first love affair with COIN)."

If you were going to parody the belief that the only useful tool in the box was a hammer, this is the kind of sentence you would write. Unfortunately, the world will require us to fight small wars in the future and small wars by definition are ones in which massive firepower can't be used. It will be much harder to get small wars right if we stamp our feet and refuse to think about them anymore. Better to keep thinking about it now than having the low ranking people have to do it by themselves on the fly because the high ranking people haven't been thinking about anything but how to swing that hammer.

carl:

I'll ask you the same question I asked Move Forward:

"Unfortunately, the world will require us to fight small wars in the future..."

You know this how?

I don't question that there will be small wars. I do question whether the world or anything else will require us to fight them. Why should that be the case?

"...and small wars by definition are ones in which massive firepower can't be used."

METT-TC. All wars are different.

"It will be much harder to get small wars right if we stamp our feet and refuse to think about them anymore. Better to keep thinking about it now than having the low ranking people have to do it by themselves on the fly because the high ranking people haven't been thinking about anything but how to swing that hammer."

I do not believe many are refusing to think about them, I do think many are simply saying there's a better way and that, historically, the commitment of large US forces is not effective (I'd go a step further and say that since WW II such commitments have always done more harm than good...) and that should be avoided unless there is absolutely no other option.

And there have been other options for all of our major commitments of force into other nations; we just used that hammer because the politicians -- not the Generals -- do not know any better and will not provide much other than a hammer. Other tools make many of the Pols nervous...

Ken:

You have me hopelessly impaled upon a point of rhetoric. I will rephrase my statement. We WILL fight small wars in the future. It won't make any difference at all whether one says the world forced us into it or we went into it lighthearted and whistling a happy tune. We will fight small wars in the future. I know this because of the course of American and world history. Can't perfectly predict the future of course, but I figure it is a sure bet that countries will keep doing over and over what they have been doing over and over and over.

Many may be saying there is a better way. But I perceive that many are saying never again no matter what, therefore we shouldn't think about it. I am concerned about that. That wars should be avoided unless there is absolutely no other option is always true. But there always seems to be no option at the time even though afterward, options abounded. We should continue to think about how to fight the small wars we WILL get into.

You say commitments of large US forces have always done more harm than good. I am not so sure of that, but in any event I think it is more important to ask why it hasn't done any good. I read you as saying it can't by its' nature do any good. The era since WWII has seen large nations willing to back insurgent forces in other nations and the Americans unwilling to stop them. That didn't happen much before the war. So it isn't that commitment of large forces can't by its' nature work, its' more it can't work if you allow the insurgent relatively free access to a lot of outside support.

To say the generals aren't to blame is on the order of saying the politicians and the press "lost" Vietnam. The generals have plenty to do with it. The generals like to think about the hammer of conventional large scale battle more than they like to think about messy small wars, if for only because generals are much more important in conventional large scale battle than they are in small wars. I priced used copies of "Defeating Communist Insurgency" around 2004 or so and they were somewhat north of $100. That was because there were few copies available and very high demand. There would not have been few copies if demand hadn't fallen off in years prior and the price wouldn't have been so high unless demand suddenly increased. One little point of data that means the professional military hadn't much been thinking of small wars.

carl:

"I figure it is a sure bet that countries will keep doing over and over what they have been doing over and over and over."

You may be correct -- but I'm an optimist and I know we can be smarter than we have been. King Airs and Queen Airs after all replaced DC-3s. Just took a while...

"You say commitments of large US forces have always done more harm than good. I am not so sure of that..."

The history is out there for anyone to read.

"...but in any event I think it is more important to ask why it hasn't done any good. I read you as saying it can't by its' nature do any good..."

Basically correct, large scale interventions by Armed Forces entail armed effort. Armed effort will invariably cause harm; no exceptions. The key is to balance the harm done against the good to be obtained. That is where we have consistently failed -- and that, BTW, is almost entirely due to the Politicians, the General's have little or no say in that aspect.

"The era since WWII has seen large nations willing to back insurgent forces in other nations and the Americans unwilling to stop them. That didn't happen much before the war. So it isn't that commitment of large forces can't by its' nature work, its' more it can't work if you allow the insurgent relatively free access to a lot of outside support."

That didn't happen much before the war because we didn't go anywhere to stay where it could become a problem. Since the war, during the Cold War, we allowed ourselves to get suckered into playing by the rules while our opponents did not. That is unlikely to change in the future -- and that is a prescription for disaster.

Ponder the fact that while trying to 'help' one nation whose insurgents are being aided by another nearby nation that efforts to curtail that help can also do more harm than good and will almost certainly entail a bigger, wider, almost certainly more harmful war. Mending the behavior of other nations isn't nearly as easy as many seem to wish to think...

"To say the generals aren't to blame is on the order of saying the politicians and the press "lost" Vietnam."

No, it is not in the sense you imply. The Press had little to do with it, really. They weren't helpful but nor did they do a tremendous amount of damage. They're really sort of immaterial.

The Politicians OTOH had everything to do with it -- that war was 'lost' before it started and the Kennedy's started it to boost the US economy and the Democratic party. Then it got out of hand. Several Chiefs of Staff of the Army in succession recommended that we not go there; the Politicians went anyway.

Once there, the Army did not do it well. I've always acknowledged that; they tried to fight a land war in Europe while in SE Asia. Variation on that theme also accrue to both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Generals argue for the Army they'd like to have but it's up to the Politicians to produce the Army the nation needs -- our Politicians have historically been reluctant to do that because they to derive benefit from the current system and processes. There's enough blame to go around but the ultimate responsibility is with the Politicians who nominate and approve the promotion of those Generals and who fund any war like efforts on the part of the US. Note also that said politician generally oppose more funds for training, that they are generally very leery of any operations they deem potentially 'risky' and that they are inclined to treat the Armed forces as either fiefs or pariahs...

"The generals have plenty to do with it. The generals like to think about the hammer of conventional large scale battle more than they like to think about messy small wars, if for only because generals are much more important in conventional large scale battle than they are in small wars."

That's partly correct but -- and this important -- that's a known flaw. It also is a very minor flaw and citing it as a rationale elides the fact that an Army is designed to do damage and if one commits it to an operation, damage is going to occur. It's just that simple. The Generals do what they're paid to do; the Politicians OTOH get paid to and have the responsibility of weighing the probable damage against the possible good (note the damage is probable -- a certainty, actually, the good merely possible -- or conjectural, actually...). They do not do that well. That should be a planning consideration; it seldom is. The Pols too often react to pleas for 'action' without thinking through what they're about to do.

"I priced used copies of "Defeating Communist Insurgency" around 2004 or so and they were somewhat north of $100. That was because there were few copies available and very high demand. There would not have been few copies if demand hadn't fallen off in years prior and the price wouldn't have been so high unless demand suddenly increased. One little point of data that means the professional military hadn't much been thinking of small wars."
Do much broad jumping? That's a questionable assumption on your part, I think. Academics have far more interest in that sort of esoteric BS than do most professional military types. They also can have the school library purchase it whereas most military folks buy their own books. Consider also that particular book is about as appropriate today as would be a book on Cavalry Tactics, horse type. Or Galula and friends. That was then, this is now.

Still it is no secret that the US Army deliberately and for the most part turned its back on COIN / FID et. al. from 1975-2005. Contrary to your stated belief, that was not because the Gen-Gens wanted big wars only, it was because they knew that small wars were quite poor in the area of cost:benefit and provided, not jobs for Generals but a lot of body bags for little or no good. IOW, peoploe who had seen war knew that more harm than good was likely.

That has not changed. Nor will it. All you lovers of small wars need to recall Mom's advice: "Be careful what you want, you may get it."

Ken:

Airplanes are still airplanes and small wars are still small wars, whether you fight them with a Martini or an M-4.

You said:

"That didn't happen much before the war because we didn't go anywhere to stay where it could become a problem. Since the war, during the Cold War, we allowed ourselves to get suckered into playing by the rules while our opponents did not. That is unlikely to change in the future -- and that is a prescription for disaster."

I disagree. Before the war, there were no so called superpowers that could wield influence over continents and continents away. After the war there were two, one of which was motivated by an expansionist ideology, the USSR and they took advantage of the breakup of the colonial empires to make mischief. Those conditions just wasn't there before the war. We were reacting to radically changed conditions. The two big things after the war was the rivalry between the two superpowers and the breakup of the old empires.

What rules are you talking about specifically?

You said:

"That's partly correct but -- and this important -- that's a known flaw. It also is a very minor flaw and citing it as a rationale elides the fact that an Army is designed to do damage and if one commits it to an operation, damage is going to occur. It's just that simple. The Generals do what they're paid to do; the Politicians OTOH get paid to and have the responsibility of weighing the probable damage against the possible good (note the damage is probable -- a certainty, actually, the good merely possible -- or conjectural, actually...). They do not do that well. That should be a planning consideration; it seldom is. The Pols too often react to pleas for 'action' without thinking through what they're about to do."

Two things come to mind when I read the first two sentences. First, if it is a known flaw, why doesn't the military fix it? The generals and admirals run the military, if a known flaw isn't fixed it is their fault.

Secondly, the armed forces are indeed designed to kill people and break things. But the way you write the second sentence it seems as if you view the military as force of nature that can't be controlled and will go its' way regardless. That is an excuse for an officer corps that either can't or won't control the organization. That is an abjuration of responsibility. Or worse, it can be viewed an refusal to obey the civilian leadership in that they will only fight the type of war they care to fight, not the one they are directed to fight. If the pol says it is needed that a small war be fought, it is the duty of the military to fight the small war proficiently, not say "Sorry, I can't be held responsible for what happens." What the generals get paid to do is obey civilian leadership.

Nope, I never could broad jump. But I did say that it was "one little point of data" that reinforces the point that "it is no secret that the US Army deliberately and for the most part turned its back on COIN / FID et. al. from 1975-2005."

You said:

"Still it is no secret that the US Army deliberately and for the most part turned its back on COIN / FID et. al. from 1975-2005. Contrary to your stated belief, that was not because the Gen-Gens wanted big wars only, it was because they knew that small wars were quite poor in the area of cost:benefit and provided, not jobs for Generals but a lot of body bags for little or no good. IOW, peoploe who had seen war knew that more harm than good was likely."

The generals turned their back on small wars because they made the judgment that small wars weren't worth it. Hmmm. That is not their job. Their job is to be ready to fight well the wars that the civilian leadership directs them to fight, big, small or middling. It is not their job to determine which efforts are worth it an which are not and refuse to think much about those they figure are not. That is at the least incompetent and maybe just a teensy bit outside their role.

Mom said that? The scout master said "Be prepared." We should be prepared for that which is likely to come. Lover of small wars? Call me what you will. I would love it if we at least continued to think about what will surely come.

Carl:

Airplanes are airplanes and small wars are small wars and the Martini versus M4 comment is valid -- what changes is the conditions under which one can fly an airplane or fight a war. Small wars are fought due to lack of ability to make them big wars; the conditions -- the 'rules' if you will -- under which one could fly or fight even 30 years ago, much less 40+ or 80, are quite different than those of today...

As you allude to in your comment about the 1930s versus the 1970s. To put in Army training (flawed and marginally effective -- and introduced at the behest of members of Congress...) vernacular, the task and standard are pretty much the same but the conditions have changed tremendously. ;)

That not withstanding my point was that "during the Cold War, we allowed ourselves to get suckered into playing by the rules while our opponents did not." As I wrote, that isn't likely to change. Why should we want to fight on the other guys turf while constrained by our rules while he has no such constraints. That simply is not smart.

"First, if it is a known flaw, why doesn't the military fix it? The generals and admirals run the military, if a known flaw isn't fixed it is their fault."

They can fix it -- if you can get Congress to stop insisting on their idea of fair and objective personnel policies which are ensconced in the law...

My point was that it is a known flaw and the folks that induce that flaw, politicians, end up deciding what should be done and using inappropriate forces to do those things. There are many reasons why that is so and the senior uniformed leaders do contribute but they are a small part of the problem. Their options are pretty severely constrained by the mass of laws that have mushroomed in the past forty years or so and which force micromanagement by both the Congress (including GAO) and the Senior uniformed leaders.

"Secondly, the armed forces are indeed designed to kill people and break things. But the way you write the second sentence it seems as if you view the military as force of nature that can't be controlled and will go its' way regardless. That is an excuse for an officer corps that either can't or won't control the organization."

That's not the way I write it, it's the way you choose to take it. It is not an excuse, it is a simple statement of fact, Armies break things and kill people. If you do not want things broken or people killed, an Army is not the instrument to choose. That's all I said; not a question of going their own way -- it's a matter of why they exist and what they are trained to do AND the focus they are given by their civilian masters and fund providers.

One wouldn't assign an Aviator to navigate a submarine -- he can do it but it isn't his line of work and one will not get the best or possibly even good performance.

"...Or worse, it can be viewed an refusal to obey the civilian leadership in that they will only fight the type of war they care to fight, not the one they are directed to fight."

Now you're veering into a stall. Your first sentence is just hyperbole and has never been an issue in the US Army nor has anything I've written suggested that; that came out of your imagination. It is not a question of fighting the war they care to fight, it is a question of applying force. Once you commit an armed force, you are committing to violence to one degree or another. Old precept says never point a gun at anyone unless you are prepared to use it. Once you point it, you are committed...

That said, you are correct in this:

"If the pol says it is needed that a small war be fought, it is the duty of the military to fight the small war proficiently, not say "Sorry, I can't be held responsible for what happens." What the generals get paid to do is obey civilian leadership."

That's true and they've always done what they were told so the response to that last sentence is a simple 'yes.' You're also correct on the first sentence; if you'll recall, I've long written that the hammer gets used because it is the only tool we have. The Generals do not say what you state, they say "Yes, sir" and go do it. My point is that they do not do do a great job because they are not allowed to have all the tools they need or to train to use things aside from hammers.

The US system says that they can ask for tools other than hammers -- and they sometimes * do -- and it's up to Congress to provide those tools. They rarely do provide them because they do not wish to take military risks or to upset the contractors and suppliers who provide jobs in the Congroids's Districts and States.

* And sometimes they don't ask because they occasionally get beaten up by Congress for even asking.

"Hmmm. That is not their job. Their job is to be ready to fight well the wars that the civilian leadership directs them to fight, big, small or middling. It is not their job to determine which efforts are worth it an which are not and refuse to think much about those they figure are not. That is at the least incompetent and maybe just a teensy bit outside their role."

Wrong. Yes their job is to be ready -- but they can only be as ready as they are allowed and funded to be. It is not outside their role, advising their civilian masters is very much their role. The law says the Chairman of the Joint Chief is the Military Adviser to the President; that law does not say the President has to take that advice and most do not. If the Prez then says "Go forth and do great things" the CJCS says "Yes,sir" and away we go -- no matter how dumb the task happens to be...

Nor does the law say the CJCS wil be Americas best and most Competent Soldier -- it says that the President appoints him with the Advice and Consent of the Senate. Tradition and precedent -- history -- say that the senior Dude from which ever service and whose turn it is gets the job (and the Senators, in their urge to be all things to all people, insure that this is done 'fairly and equitably' -- in other words, the Navy proponents in the Senate will scream if it's the Navy's turn and one of their guys is not picked...). Competence for the war at hand is not an issue.

"The scout master said "Be prepared." We should be prepared for that which is likely to come. Lover of small wars? Call me what you will. I would love it if we at least continued to think about what will surely come."

There you go again. Why "surely?" It need not be -- I say it should 'be' only rarely. Why not be at least a little smarter than we have been. You want the Army to change to meet your expectations but you also want to keep doing what we've been doing, just be better at doing it? Given the realities of US politics and force structure, I think that's a dichotomy...